Communicating Your Vision to Build Strategic Teams

Strategy_Fotolia_11842670_XSYour future success and that of your team, department, or business unit depend on your ability to become a strategic force and enroll your team in shaping the future. A question we are asked a lot in our training and consulting practice—one that we grapple with in our own organization—is, how do you effectively share your strategic vision with your team, or your business within the business, so you can get maximum support for it? Whether you are leading a team, department, or functional area, developing your capacity to enroll people in your strategic direction will help your area of responsibility enhance its long-term value to the organization as a whole.

Get Everybody Involved

Once you have worked through the process of creating a meaningful strategy that will produce the results needed to generate success over the long haul, you will need to cascade your strategy and get every member of your team, or functional area of responsibility, contributing in a meaningful way. Ultimately, you need to prepare your team for what is to come so they can help you gain traction with the strategy in specific areas and align their own strategic thinking and plans with your vision for the future. It is a lot easier to expect your team members to think strategically about their own responsibilities when they have a broader strategic vision to align with and see you as a strategic leader who not only takes care of today’s expectations but acts on opportunities and issues that will affect future results. Having a clear understanding of what you desire for the future and how you plan to do it will put you in a position to share your perspective in a clear and straightforward way and successfully capitalize on the contributions your team can make to your strategic endeavor. Remember that people are most productive when they understand what is expected of them.

Every year, my team and I go through the rigorous process of articulating our strategic vision (generally for the next 12 months) and setting our critical strategic initiatives that will enable us to execute our strategy. I choose to involve key members of my functional area to help me set the strategic vision, although your situation may necessitate creating it on your own. Year after year, and day after day, it still surprises me how much I have to do to help my team understand the strategy and discover how they individually contribute to its success or failure. I wish it was as easy as printing it up on a nice-looking, one-page document that I hand out to everyone so they can independently discover how they will contribute to it. We all know it is not that easy, and that mindset isn’t what strategic leadership is all about. Fundamentally, sharing your strategic vision is an ongoing leadership process, not a single event. While there is not a surefire way to get everyone aligned, engaged, and in sync with a strategy, I have found that with some rigor in the following areas, you can increase your chances of success.

Are You and Your Team Ready?

Before meeting with your team and communicating vision and strategy, test the viability of your strategic vision and initiatives by thinking about your team’s or organization’s readiness and capacity to take on the strategy you have crafted. Make sure what you have set forth can be accomplished with your current team and resources, or decide what you need to obtain or change in order to make it a reality. The last thing you want to do is introduce a strategy that isn’t realistic or attainable, but you also want to test your team’s limits and be able to meet the demands of the future as it unfolds.

Meet With Your Team

Communicating a vision that’s strategic and a set of initiatives deserves some dedicated meeting time from you and your team. Set some time aside so you can carefully articulate your strategic point of view. Hold a specific, future-focused strategy meeting that signals how important it is to you, and don’t clutter the focus with operational issues or fire-fighting. Many successful strategic leaders I have worked with find an off-site location that is free from distractions to discuss strategy, and you might find this approach is useful for your situation as well. If you have a virtual team, do everything possible to keep team members engaged, and later, follow-up individually to answer questions and clarify the strategic intent.

Vividly Portray the Future

Remember that the purpose of sharing your strategic direction is to help your team or organization focus its energy around a clear strategic vision and put strategic initiatives into place. As you describe the strategic vision and the key initiatives you have constructed, provide a vivid description of the future state of your team, department, or organization. If you want your team to become like other strategic teams, help them to picture what you see. Articulate the direction you think the team needs to move towards, the key turning points or changes you intend to pursue, and most importantly, the rationale behind why these strategic imperatives will help your area of the business and avoid becoming stale, complacent, or irrelevant. When it comes right down to it, you and your team cannot continue to do things the way they have always been done, so help them see the future you want and that the group needs. Outlining strategic priorities for everyone will help you and them exploit opportunities and minimize threats now and in the future. It is also incumbent upon you as the strategic leader to show them how these strategic directives connect to the broader business strategy.

If at all possible, build your strategy around a few common themes that are easy to explain and reference. Start with a framework and some specific talking points. You can always provide additional detail later. For example, with my team, these talking points are referred to as the “Five Key Levers” to the team’s strategy. This reference provides us with a shared phrase we have incorporated into our team discussions and dialogue.

Strategy can be exciting, so communicate with passion, create some excitement, tap into their aspirations, and engage them both viscerally and intellectually. Be careful that you don’t overwhelm them during the first meeting. Use this introduction as a springboard into other strategically focused discussions as a group and during individual coaching conversations. In setting a strategic focus, it is not unusual to have to break the process up into multiple meetings. I’ve found that you have to communicate something of importance ten times more than you would like, so don’t think that your initial explanation of your strategic direction will do the trick.

Blog - Communicate Your Strategic Vision - Critical Success Factors - S MeadDetermine Critical Success Factors

Either in your initial strategy discussion or during a subsequent meeting opportunity, explain those factors that are absolutely critical and necessary to accomplishing your strategic mission and vision. Identify the operational areas that may need to be adjusted, reorganized, or tweaked in order to produce the desired results. Invite members of your organization to weigh in with their perspectives and frames of reference. These areas may include, and are definitely not limited to:

  • Processes, systems, and procedures
  • Structures, roles, and responsibilities
  • Beliefs and values
  • Competencies, skills, and knowledge
  • Resources

You will also find benefit in setting the expectation that strategic teams have to let go of the “old ways” and learn the “new ways.” Without clarity regarding the critical success factors and the new mindsets and beliefs that will be upheld, it will be challenging to engage, optimize, and achieve your strategy. People have to understand that things must, and will, change, but as is the case with most organizational change, this can be difficult to implement without your constant, consistent leadership.

Individual Team-Member Strategies

The next critical part of your strategic leadership responsibility is to get individuals in your team or functional area to discover how to create their strategy within the overall strategy, or in other words, what they can do to add strategic value to the team, department, or organization in addition to their regular responsibilities. The challenge is getting them out of their operational frame of mind in order to adopt a strategic point-of-view, or perspective, concerning how they fit into the strategic space. They need to be able to visualize how the things they do contribute to the strategic space and how their actions help you and the team win. I want my team members to use my strategic vision as a guide for strategically reinventing themselves. Sometimes, I trust that they can diagnose how to do this on their own, but there are occasions that necessitate providing the strategic target or initiative they are responsible for and communicating how that aligns with the overall strategic vision. Can it be frustrating and take time? Definitely. It is easy to get into the mode of assuming that members of your team can identify their strategic contribution, but even if they know what your strategic vision is, they can’t always translate it into what they need to do to add strategic value. Unfortunately, leaders assume the level of their team members’ understanding regarding their strategic vision is high when team member understanding is actually quite low, and often times, valuable time, energy, and effort are wasted aiming at the wrong areas—usually those that are not the most urgent strategic priorities.

As you do this, be careful that you do not discourage them from thinking strategically about their own roles and responsibilities and creating a strategic vision for themselves. Rather, encourage them to think of their responsibilities in a new way and reinvent how they operate, as well as contribute, to the broader strategy in a few specific areas. They may have their own ideas about how they can “win” and be effective in the future. Certainly, none of this should replace day-to-day results that have to be generated, but it should give a deeper purpose to what they do now, and what they should be working towards down the road. To be successful long-term, everyone has to deliver the business results that meet today’s expectations while also acting on opportunities, issues, and concerns that will affect tomorrow’s outcomes. Do your part in setting them up for success because once you get people on board, amazing things can happen.

Clear Expectations and Support

Because successful execution requires team members and partners, you will need to set clear expectations and gain commitment for their support in carrying out the strategy. Do this up front so you are not in a position where you have to ask for it when you find that things aren’t getting done. Invite them to take ownership and transfer it from my strategy to our strategy. To make it all come together, you will need support with their thoughts, words, and actions. Be patient as things begin to unfold, and know that part of being a good strategic leader means being a good strategic coach as well.

Blog - Communicate Your Strategic Vision to Your Team - Execution is Key - SMeadtape measures clothExecution Is Key

Your efforts in sharing your strategic vision won’t be worth much if you can’t get yourself and your team executing the strategy. Constantly monitor and track progress towards your strategic initiatives. By measuring and monitoring your progress with hard data, you and others will know right away if you are on track or if you need to make adjustments to your strategic journey.

Using the strategy as a litmus test for the team’s daily activities and decision-making processes will provide immeasurable benefits and consistency. It is helpful to regularly ask yourself and your team if what you are doing and spending time on really contributes to the strategy. Don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions and challenge conventional thinking or traditions. Encourage people to experiment, innovate, and take smart risks within the framework of the strategy. Then recognize and reward incremental steps along the path. Successful strategic leaders have their team members locked in, and they apply strategic discipline to their routines in order to make room for strategic thinking efforts. When you do this, your strategy can really take hold.

The future is not as far away as it might seem, so as you and your team embark on your strategic adventure together, attack it with coordinated effort and fortitude. Value your allies and partners, and use these ideas to help them internalize your strategy and unlock long-term success.

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About the Author

Stephanie Mead

Ms. Mead has experience in operations management, leadership development curriculum design, organization development consulting, and international operations. Stephanie has developed complete leadership development curriculums for some of the world’s leading organizations. Her experience also includes creating specialized learning experiences and blended learning programs aimed at maximizing human and organization performance. Stephanie has also co-authored 4 books with other CMOE consultants.